Dave Markey's "1991 The Year Punk Broke" makes its Mainland China debut (2006)

Article from Shanghai newspaper The Bund, Interview by Psyche Yang

There are always plenty of great punk rock on the soundtrack in your movie, when did you first contact with punk? It was through someone or some event? Could you describe some details about this?

I was first aware of this music in the late 1970’s through the new wave of the Ramones, The Clash, Talking Heads, Devo, and the B-52’s. I was a young teenager and I was always a fan of music, but this music spoke infinite volumes to me, even more than the Led Zeppelins and the Grand Funk Railroads and the AM radio pop music I grew up with in the early part of the 70’s. Not to say they were not great bands either.

Is there some ingredients of your family or environment urge you do the music and movies about punk? Could you describe the process of you gradually become familiar with punk rock?

I am an only child from a broken home, and my father died an alcoholic death when I was 13. So home life really pushed me out on the streets. Little by little I began uncovering the local underground music scene in Los Angeles in the early 1980's. The Hardcore Punk of Black Flag, Red Cross, The Germs, Angry Samoans, The Minutemen, and Saccharine Trust. This is when I became directly involved with music, playing drums in LA band Sin 34 and publishing a punk rock magazine called We Got PowerIt was a really exciting time and musically there was so much was going on locally.

Why did you choose to shoot Black Flag in your film REALITY '86'd? Where did this inspiration come from?

I shot that document of the final Black Flag tour of the United States in 1986 (the six month long In My Head tour) because I was on that tour as a drummer / singer in my second band Painted Willie.  It was easy to do because I was already there as a musician. I had shot them previously five years earlier in my doc film The Slog Movie.

Could you talk about some story in the trip as the drummer for Painted Willie?

Painted Willie was formed as my first band Sin 34 broke up in 1984. Phil Newman (also X- of Sin 34) and I had been playing together for a few years and we were growing as musicians. Our music evolved into a sort of heavy rock / psychedelic type of band, but we were still punkers. We were pre-grunge.

Could you talk the process of cooperation with the Black Flag? In your opinion, what were their members’ characters?

Greg Ginn, the founding member of the band and proprietor of SST Records (the independent label that put out all of Black Flag records) signed my band and took us under his wing. It was a dream come true.  He was a hero of mine and it was an honor to be a part of that label and tour.  I remember at the time I couldn't believe it was happening.

In the perspective of a member of the Black Flag, how did you look at the demise of this powerful and mighty punk band?

I was never in Black Flag. I saw them a lot throughout the years and even toured with them.  Black Flag had gone through many music and line up changes. They evolved radically in the 10 years they were together, more than most bands. This is part of what made them interesting to me. But unfortunately there was a major dysfunction of the band’s leader (Ginn) to communicate with its members.  First he pulled the plug on the band, and then he eventually sunk the label.  He grew increasingly paranoid and became a very contradictory figure to me. To this day he stands in the way of the release of Reality 86'd.

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls features all the clichés - sleazy managers, drugs, murder, gang fights, Felix the cat, etc. And how did your arrange the details in the movie?

I edited that film for the most part in the camera. It was so low budget, but I was able to make what little I had work somehow. Much of it was the energy of the participants in the film, primarily Redd Kross and other friends in bands from the LA scene.  We all grew up watching the same bad television shows and eating the same junk food. This film was like purging all of that out of our systems.

You can record the punks in a way which others never could. How did you manage such a good a relationship with them?

Perhaps because I was one of them. I wasn’t an outsider trying to capitalize on the scene. I had relationships with these people, and it seemed we were bound together. We all sort of grew up together, and it was not easy. I lost many of my friends through the years. So many people in my films are now dead, long before their time. This scene was not a pose. People really did live fast and die young.

When you talk about the infamous last Black Flag tour in 1986, your had mentioned that “within a year, every band on that tour would break up and fall apart.”, what’s that mean exactly?

It was just the time.  Hardcore was over.  The gig was up. Black Flag, Painted Willie and Gone. These bands just up and died. Fin-ito. Quits. History. End of the line.

Many people were fanatic with these punk musicians, like Sonic Youth and Nirvana, as a recorder and a company of them, how do you look on them? Are you treated them as your friend?

I have a relationship with Sonic Youth dating back over 20 years. I have done a lot of work for them, and they’ve done a lot for me. They are very generous as people and as a band, and they’ve always looked out for me.

In your opinion, what’s the difference between these punk musicians and the ordinary people.

These are ordinary people to me. Very normal, family oriented people. But then again, I’ve not had a normal life at all. Maybe “Normal” is boring. Like the new wave button said, “Why Be Normal?”

How do you look on yourself? A filmmaker or a musician, or someone record the development of music?

Filmmaker / Musician, yeah. That works. Even although I haven’t been playing music for five years or so, it is a part of my life, and probably always will be.

Which impress you most in the process of 1991 The Year Punk Broke?

Nirvana was the biggest band in the world at the time while I was editing the movie. When I shot it, few knew who they were. A lot changed quickly and dramatically for them within a years time. They left me alone to make the film I wanted to make, never said one word about any of it while I was working on it. I think it captures them at their peak.

Why do you focus on recording these punk musicians life? What’s opinion you want to represent in the 1991 The Year Punk Broke?

I did not set out to make some grand sweeping statement. I wanted to simply document what that brief 2 week summer European tour was like.  I felt it was important to include humor, as so many of these projects always seemed so serious. I just wanted to capture the bands and the personalities in all their glory, for better or worse. It was a lot of fun, and I think this comes across in the film.

How do you like these punk musicians you figured out in 1991 The Year Punk Broke? Do you want to scribe the real people or the origin of the punk music?

At the time there was little or no reverence for this kind of music. Punk was for all purposes, dead. This was the music I had grown up with and felt so close to throughout the 1980's. The title was tongue in cheek, a sarcastic quip I rattled off in reference to seeing Motley Crue covering "Anarchy In The UK" on European TV early on the tour. It just kind of stuck as a in-joke.  Of course Nirvana was not famous yet (at the time of filming), so it was a bit prophetic and clearly the last glimpse of innocence for them. They were opening for Sonic Youth, who had just helped them get a deal with their label (Geffen).  Here I was riding along with them at all these huge European music festivals with 50 thousand people in the audience. Sonic Youth, while not a “punk” band per-se had the ideals and mentality and were schooled by the 80’s underground like myself. Nirvana were a little more straight forward, but I recognized even in the middle of their poppier songs a deep punk attitude. But of course this was not at first thought of because the media hype of “grunge” at the time.

When you on tour with the Sonic Youth and Nirvana across countries and continents, did they use most of their time to talk about music? The trip itself must be interest, isn’t it? Could give some details about this.

Most of it was just what you would imagine it to be, and what is on the screen in that film. We played a lot of music on the bus, and even watched movies (like “This Is Spinal Tap”). We showed up at these dates, the bands played, and I filmed. Thurston Moore acts as the anchor, the narrator, the MC. I had him do a lot of that at the time knowing I would need buffers for the performance material. Some of it is embarrassing, that’s the stuff I really like, because it is so teenage, so brash, so drunk.

You also shoot music videos for these punks, what’s the difference in the expression between the music video and the movie?

I approach my music videos not unlike the performance material I captured in 1991 TYPB. But perhaps with a little more attention to detail and concept. As much as I’ve experimented, I think my style is pretty evident and consistent in all of my work. Much of it is in the editing.

Which punk band you like most in those who you had cooperated with? And what are the main differences between them?

I choose each of the bands I work with. If I don’t like them I don’t work with them.  Even my work for hire material comes from my interest in these bands and their music. 

As such a low-cost movie, when you take part in the movie festival, how do you look on those high-tech and high-cost movie?

My films have a budgetary dis-advantage over just about anything that’s ever graced a cinema screen. But then again, underground cinema is hardly anything new. I remember being a kid and seeing John Waters movies in a theater and being inspired. But for me, it’s always been about doing with what you have. It can be frustrating sometimes, but liberating other times. I believe most people have more patience than Hollywood thinks they have. But to answer your question, I enjoy films regardless of their budget. There has been many great big budget Hollywood films, and there have been many great independent low budget films.

Do you have come up against any difficulties when you make these movies? And how did you handle them?

Difficulties sometimes pose a great challenge, and can be an inspiration. Most of my difficulties have been after the fact, of the red-tape variety.

As such a punk and low-cost movie, have you ever consider the movie's market?

The film (The Year Punk Broke) played theatrically nationally here in the states, and has been available on VHS for years, It’s sold several hundred thousand copies without any big advertising or hype. I hope to get the DVD out eventually with all of the bonus material I’ve produced.

You also have written your first novel, and worked on a book of photography. You also said that want to compile a DVD release of my short films of the last thirty years. How were they going on? And are all of them talking about punk rock?

I have been making films since I was 11 years old, pre-punk. Many of them will appear on the soon to be released DVD Cut Shorts: Music Videos and Short Films by David Markey 1974-2004. It is interesting how they all play together. It surprised me how cohesive they are as a whole.

Someone had said that punk movie was “the grainy, poorly-lit, brutally edited, hand-held films”, how did you choose your way to make movies? Is that related to the punk music or a steady style of punk movie?

Some of it is related to the budget (or lack there of). Some of it is related to too much caffeine. Much of it is related to the energy around the music and what I get from it.  On these films for the most part it was basically a one man crew, what I shot was one take and with existing light. 

What are you busy for now and what is your plan in future years?

As much as I like and am proud of my body of work I know there is much I have yet to accomplish. I am in my 40’s now, and in some way I feel like I am just getting started.